Soldier’s letter echoes experiences by veterans across generations

Published Nov 5, 2017 at 9:00am

A World War I soldier wrote a letter to his father in Rome, which was published in the Rome Sentinel. It illustrated the sacrifices made by him, and by the thousands of others who served in the “War to End all Wars.”

Sgt. William F. Myers wrote his letter to his dad, William M. Myers, with an address given in the story as “R.F.D. 1, West Rome.” The letter was dated Nov. 24, 1918, and it was sent from France.

As we remember all military members this Veterans Day, we especially salute our ancestors who fought in World War I, as this year is the 100th anniversary of the U.S. entry into the Great War. The war came to an end on Nov. 11, 1918.

Some 1,200 Romans fought in WWI, and 41 died, according to a recent study by Rome Historical Society volunteer Kevin Piatt. The dead will be among the 81,000 Americans killed in the war who are being recalled this year. They and other deceased veterans will be saluted at noon Saturday, Dec. 16, at Wreaths Across America ceremonies at cemeteries in Rome, Lee and Western.

The first Roman killed in the war was Army Cpl. Henry P. Smith, namesake of the American Legion Post in Rome, who was killed July 8, 1918.

He is buried in St. Peter’s Cemetery, the site of one of the ceremonies.

Following are some excerpts from Myers’ letter:

“Dear Father,

Today as you probably know is the day for everyone in the A.E.F.” -- American Expeditionary Force -- “to write a letter to their father …

“On Oct. 29, 1917, about a week after my leave home, we were all awakened about 3 o’clock in the morning to get ready to leave camp at dawn for the embarkation pier … When dawn came, our train pulled into the camp and we all boarded it and left for Long Island City, where we were put on a large ferry boat and ferried over to the Hoboken pier. We then boarded a large transport called the America, which used to be a German ship …

“After a few days out, some of the fellows began to get seasick … About all they could do was to hang on the rail and feed the fish ..

“We slept on canvas slung between two poles, and they were three high … you can sure get a lot of men in one room that way…

“We had ‘abandon ship’ drill every day, when we were obliged to get our life belts and line up on the deck. Each detachment was assigned to a certain boat, so in case the ship was torpedoed, we could get off in the quickest possible time.

“We got good eats on our way over. Until we reached the war zone, we had three meals a day, and after getting in the war zone, we were only allowed two meals ..

“It was Nov. 12th before we saw land, and then we steamed into the port of Brest, France …

“We immediately marched to the railroad station … We left Brest about ten o’clock and rode the rest of the day and all night until nearly twelve the next day, when we arrived at Tours, a large city southwest of Paris. We were about the first American soldiers in this city, and everyone treated us great … I was at Tours until just before Christmas, when I was ordered to general headquarters at Chaumont, near Langres … We arrived there Christmas Eve, after passing through Paris … We had a fine Christmas dinner at Chaumont … I was at this place until the latter part of Feb., when I was ordered to Colombey-les-Belles, a small town south of Toul and Nancy …

“I was at this post until the middle of August, when our colonel was ordered to Chaumont again and a number of us went with him …

“I had my application in for aerial gunnery and had it approved, and was expecting to be called up for training any day, when the Armistice was signed and so I lost my last chance of getting in the thick of the fight. I was very anxious to get my training and get a crack at the Huns, and the only way I could do it was by fighting from an airplane, as I couldn’t get out of the air service, and believe me I was more than ready to get a chance at them, when I heard of John’s death. But everything is over now and I hope soon to get back home again …

“Things are pretty much unsettled just now and I can’t tell when I will be able to get back …”

Anyone with an ancestor from Rome who participated in World War I, is invited to share their photos and stories with the Rome Historical Society, so that their history can be preserved for future generations. Society volunteer Kevin Piatt notes that families who had a member in World War I can request their records from this website:

https://www.archives.gov/veterans/military-service-records

This column was compiled for the Rome Historical Society by Chip Twellman Haley, retired Daily Sentinel news editor, with photos supplied by Society volunteer Michael Huchko. Comments, old photos, suggestions for future columns or guest columns may be emailed to: chiphaley@yahoo.com. Copies of the book “Rome Through Our History,” a collection of some of Haley’s columns, may be purchased at the Rome Historical Society.

The Rome Historical Society, 200 Church St., is open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. Go online at www.romehistoricalsociety.org, visit their Facebook page, or call 336-5870 for more information.